Alexandra LaFollette
February 13, 2020

What Leads People to Drug Addiction and Alcoholism?

Drug addiction and alcoholism are synonymous with each other in the fact that they both destroy lives, families, and the homes of those who suffer from them. Alcoholism is simply just being addicted to alcohol, which is a drug itself, whereas drug addiction is an addiction to pretty much everything else that is substance-related, such as heroin, methamphetamines, prescription pills, etc. Both drug addiction and alcoholism are substance use disorders, and unfortunately, both are very common, even with the unpopular views surrounding them. Perhaps to first understand what leads people to drug addiction, we must first understand exactly what drug addiction is, to begin with.

What is Drug Addiction Or Alcoholism?

When a person is suffering from an addiction to alcohol or drugs, they have a disease of the brain. Addiction is a complex condition, it is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is manifested by compulsive, uncontrollable substance use despite harmful consequences. It is a physical and psychological dependence on drugs or alcohol regardless of what harm may come to themselves or others. While the first time someone uses drugs or alcohol is usually voluntary, the repeated use of them leads to chemical changes in the brain that affects the addicted person's self-control and inhibits their ability to stop further alcohol abuse or drug abuse.


When drugs enter the system its acts on the same part of the brain that gives us feelings of pleasure, commonly known as the reward center. Drugs bring about the same response that you would experience while enjoying a delicious meal, listening to your favorite song, or the happiness you feel after sex. After using drugs, chemicals, such as Dopamine, are released inside the brain encouraging the user to take drugs or alcohol again. After a time, it begins to replace the brain’s natural response to normal stimuli, making it difficult for other experiences to compare. The brain's structure begins to change due to the repeated release of these chemicals, without a natural reward, and the person begins to need the substance in order to feel normal again.

After repeatedly sending signals to the brain that using drugs is a rewarding experience, the brain also learns to value the substance over those more natural rewards and will begin to associate certain places, people, or things with this new behavior. This makes it challenging to stay sober, even after they’ve stopped using since they are now being triggered by these learned connections to this rewarding feeling.

Signs of Drug Addiction

If you are unsure whether you or a family member may be suffering from a substance abuse disorder then here are a few key signs that what may have initially started as recreational use has now become a problem;

  • Uncontrollably seeking drugs or alcohol
  • Neglecting or losing interest in activities that do not include the harmful substance
  • Relationship difficulties, which include lashing out at people who voice concerns about your substance abuse problem
  • The inability to stop using drugs or alcohol, even though it may be causing health problems or personal problems
  • Increased risk-taking, both with seeking out the substance and while under the influence
  • Increased tolerance of the substance


Why People Take Drugs

Unfortunately, there is no one determining factor on how to tell who will use drugs and alcohol and who will eventually become addicted to them. However, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people begin using drugs for a variety of reasons, including;

  • To feel good- feeling of pleasure, “high”
  • To feel better- anxious, stressed or tired
  • To do better- to improve performance or to study harder
  • To fit in or experiment- Curiosity and peer pressure

Risk Factors for Addiction

Anyone can become an addict, even after using drugs just one time. No one responds to drugs in the exact same way and there is no way to tell beforehand who may or may not become addicted, but there are several risk factors that can increase the likelihood that someone will develop an addiction.

  • Genetic predisposition- Research suggests that a person's family history can account for nearly 40 to 60 percent of whether or not someone will eventually become addicted to drugs or alcohol. So, if you know of family members who struggle with addiction, it may be wise to steer clear of any mind-altering substances.
  • Family life- A healthy and stable home environment while still in the early stages of development is essential for reducing the risk of addiction later on in life. Growing up and being around authority figures or family members who abuse drugs or alcohol can teach bad habits and lead to a substance abuse problem in early teenage years or adulthood.
  • Peer pressure- The influence and desire to fit in with peers can lead people to try drugs for the first time, even if they have none of the other risk factors. The increasing importance to feel like a part of a group can have a significant impact on whether or not someone develops an addiction. Choosing friends who do not use drugs can help ensure a path of success.
  • Mental illness- Underlying mental health issues can increase the likelihood of becoming an addict. Mental health disorders like depression, ADD, anxiety, and many others, may put people at greater risk for trying drugs and ultimately becoming addicted. People with other mental health issues may be at greater risk because drugs make them feel better.
  • Trauma- Around 55 to 60 percent of post-traumatic stress disorder victims have a substance abuse disorder of some kind. Furthermore, the National Institute of Health reports that more than a third of adolescents with a report of abuse or neglect will have a substance abuse problem by their 18th birthday. If you are experiencing trauma of any kind, please seek professional help today, you are not alone!
  • How old a person is the first time they use drugs- Another risk factor for addiction is how young a person is when they begin using drugs for the first time. Research shows that the younger a person is, the more likely they are to become addicted.


There are other environmental, biological, behavioral, and socioeconomic factors that can lead someone to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Addiction is often a disease of emotion and what leads someone to try drugs is different for everybody, sometimes it is just better to be safe than sorry and to never try them at all. You will never be entirely sure that you won't fall to the clutches of addiction. If you are addicted, seeking treatment from a professional drug rehabilitation program is highly recommended.

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